Back from my trip away now, and has anything much happened in my absence? You stop paying attention to British politics for a couple of days, and suddenly everything has changed. In 2014 Scotland was told that it needed the stability and security of the UK in order to ensure our democracy, now what counts as long term in British politics is the length of time it takes you to go and make a cup of tea whenever Stirling Tory MP Stephen Kerr oils up a TV studio and is interviewed on the telly. Because it’s either a cup of tea or you’ll throw your shoe at the screen and imported TV sets will be a lot more expensive after Brexit. Ruth Davidson might have resigned as leaderene of the Tory party in Scotland, but Scottish Conservative MPs still very much take their cue from her. They prove that it’s possible to be simultaneously media constructs and PR disasters.
The big news is of course that we’re in for a General Election on 12 December. As this blog site has argued previously, all routes to an independence referendum must pass over the bridge of an early Westminster General election. Arguments and disputes about the best strategy for obtaining the prize of an independence referendum in 2020 are all conditional upon what happens next month. That means that whatever you think about how effective the SNP have or have not been about asserting Scotland’s right to decide its own future, we must ensure that as many SNP MPs as possible are returned in this coming election, and that the SNP’s share of the vote is as high as we can make it. It’s vital to resurrect the old joke, and make sure that there are more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs. And Labour and Lib Dem MPs too, while we are at it. Admittedly pandas are far cuter than your average Scottish Conservative MP, but then so is projectile vomiting.
This election is one of the most important in the history of the UK. It’s a Brexit election England and Wales, an independence election in Scotland, and in Northern Ireland it’s about the relationship between the six counties and the rest of the island. This is the election which may or may not decide what the UK thinks of Brexit, although it’s a safe bet that what most of us think of Brexit is ‘Ugh’. This election may or may not provide a breakthrough in the Brexit logjam. This election may or may not create a majority government.
This General Election will also be the one that begins the end of the UK. On 12 December we will have Scotland’s chance to say clearly and loudly that this country asserts its right to decide its own future, irrespective of what the rest of the UK wants. This is Scotland’s chance to tell the rest of the UK that our country’s right to choose its own path is not and will not be contingent upon the permission of Boris Johnson. This is the election when Scotland can say yes to independence and to Europe, and no to Boris Johnson and a sclerotic Westminster. A strong showing for the SNP, a significant increase in seats and votes, will destroy the narrative that Scotland doesn’t want another independence referendum because the SNP lost seats in 2017. The signs are positive that the party leadership has learned the lesson of that disastrous campaign, and the question of independence and Scotland’s sovereign right to determine its own future within or outwith the UK will be front and foremost in next month’s General Election. And it’s going to be kicked off with Nicola Sturgeon’s first speech to an independence rally since 2014 in George Square in Glasgow this Saturday.
You might say to yourself that the SNP already have a mandate for a referendum, and a fat lot of use it’s done so far. You’d not be wrong. But don’t allow yourself to be seduced by the comforting self-righteousness of telling yourself that you will not support the SNP in this election but will vote yes in an independence referendum. If you don’t support the SNP in this election, you make it harder to achieve the referendum, you make it less likely that it will ever take place. SNP voters who stay away from the polls will not be portrayed in the media as a reflection on the unhappiness within the independence movement about how best to get an independence referendum and a lack of confidence in Nicola Sturgeon’s pursuit of a Section 30 order. There will be no newspaper editorials or BBC discussions about how the failure of the SNP to get its vote out will be because of disagreements about gender politics. The sole narrative will be that Scotland isn’t interested in independence. You’re kidding yourself on if you believe that the media will say anything else.
If we want to win Scottish independence, it’s not enough for us to say so once or twice, or even three times or four times. We need to keep saying it insistently and consistently until the clamour becomes impossible to ignore. We need to keep saying it until all those soft no voters and undecided voters in Scotland realise that alternative paths to independence are justified and justifiable, that it’s Westminster which is acting undemocratically and unreasonably. We’re only going to win independence when we take them with us. We can’t make the mistake of talking amongst ourselves in a pro-indy bubble.
Westminster General Elections are always difficult for the SNP. The UK media takes over and Scottish narratives are drowned out in the clamour from a press and broadcast media that has difficulty looking beyond the M25 – and when it does it’s to give us some vox pops from leave voting areas in the English Midlands. It becomes harder to assert and get a hearing for Scotland’s priorities. Democracy is essentially a process in story telling, in setting agendas, in explaining and persuasion. Scotland’s distinctive voice in all this becomes hard to hear over the scoffs and guffaws of Conservative entitlement, the self-righteous harrumphage of Labour, and the irritable vowel syndrome of the Lib Dems. This is, apparently, a Union benefit. That makes it all the more important that we win on the ground, that SNP activists and supporters get up and get out there, persuading, making Scotland’s case, and telling Scotland’s story. The media won’t be doing it for us.
Conservative victories and Scottish Conservative politicians are media constructs, SNP victories are me and you constructs. Scottish independence will also be a me and you construct. We have to work to build it. Let’s get to work and make this the panda election.
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My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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